Inquiry investigates hate speech during elections

Ebele Okoye, Abuja

Members of the Panel

As part of its statutory functions, the National Human Rights Commission has set up a panel of investigation into alleged hate speech made by some of the electoral candidates in the 2015 general elections.

It could be recalled that following active monitoring of campaign speeches before the elections, a report by the Human Rights Commission showed a worrisome pattern in speech related violence geared towards the election.

Over 60 incidents were recorded in 22 states. At that time, 58 persons had lost their lives due to hate speeches. Within the same period, NHRC also received more than 20 complaints alleging violence on account of hate speeches by opposing political parties.

This has prompted the commission to delve into an investigative inquiry. The inauguration of the four man panel also comes as a follow up to the campaign against hate speech and electoral violence which the commission carried out before the elections.

In his opening remarks, Chairman of the occasion and Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Human Rights, Prof Mojeed Alabi, explained the relationship between the use of hate speech and human rights.

Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Human Rights, Prof Mojeed Alabi
Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Human Rights, Prof Mojeed Alabi

“Uttering hate speeches violate rights. They are not just issues of elections alone, because when you make speeches that tend to violate the rights of other contestants to election, they become human rights issues. Using foul language to gain support or vote is also criminal and also punishable under our various criminal laws and penal codes. When violence and conflicts therefore occur on account of using hate speeches, it amounts to violation of human rights and it is in this wise that the National Human Rights Commission can appropriately intervene.”

While inaugurating the panel, Executive Secretary of the commission, Prof Bem Angwe, stated that his commission through the new panel would be impartial in carrying out its investigation. He also said that no immunity clause would exempt any offender from the punishment that follows the investigation.

“One thing I must make clear here is that we must be very very impartial, in that wise it means that no person will be spared, no matter how highly placed that person is. Whatever was involved in this will be sorted out. I also want to make it very very clear here that since these issues relate to human rights, there shall be no immunity to any public officer. I had always told you before that in the realm of human rights, there is no immunity against impunity,” the Human Rights Boss said.

In her acceptance speech, Chairperson of the panel, Mrs. Oti Ovrawah, said that her panel would work with the public to get to the root of the matter.

Chairperson of the Panel, Mrs Oti Ovrawah
Chairperson of the Panel, Mrs Oti Ovrawah

“This panel in line with the terms of reference will work an investigative and actively involving the citizenry in finding out the institutions, individuals, agencies, groups etc, who perpetrated and were responsible for and were involved in hate speech and electoral violence in 2015 General Elections.

A full report and recommendations will be made from the findings and forwarded to relevant authorities for implementation. We therefore wish to use this medium to solicit your cooperation in the work of the panel,” she said.

The new panel is made up of senior staff of the National Human Rights Commission.

The members are Mrs. Oti Ovrawah, Tony Ojukwu, A.A. Yakubu and Saka Azimazi. The panel has also been given a period of three months to carry out their investigation and submit the report to relevant quarters.